Month: August 2012

Book Review: Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture by Rob Salkowitz

August 11, 2012


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Though Ive been a comic book lover for decades and have attended my share of midwest and east coast conventions, Ive never been to the grandest con of them all, San Diegos Comic-Con. All things financial considered, I dont see myself attending it any time soon in the future either, but like many stay-at-home fans, I wont stop reading the on-line reportage once the event kick-starts.

Timed for release ahead of this years Comic-Con, Rob Salkowitz Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture (McGraw Hill) is designed to provoke plenty of thoughtful panel talk about this monolithic pop cultural event, its role in the broader entertainment industry as well as the future of the medium that sparked its existence in the first: the humble floppy comic book. Salkowitz approaches his topic as both a business analyst and a longtime fanboy-and he shows a commendable breadth of knowledge about both the medium and the somewhat clannish fan culture. Though he grew up on superhero comics, he is capable of discussing alternative/literary comics, manga, digital comics, et al. As such, the man balances a futurists focus on the struggling comics industry with an amused appreciation of the mediums history and the workings of whats become the worlds wildest trade show.

Accompanied by his wife Eunice-herself a fan with her own distinct interests – Salkowitz takes us on a day-by-day trek through the 2011 Comic-Con, describing its functions as an archival celebration of comics history, a pr hub where Hollywood and game companies unleash their promo hounds for an ultra-critical fan audience, a marketplace where artists and dealers try to score big sales (and discerning collectors try to score that one item thatll make their collection complete – at least for a moment) and a forum where industry folk and their readers consider the future of the medium they love.

As Salkowitz repeatedly makes clear throughout his book, at this point in history, comics flagship format-the 32-page floppy-is struggling to stay alive. Currently dependent on the gasping direct market as repped by funky little comics shops across the US along with the big bucks optioning of Hollywood studios, the mainstream comics industry is in a tenuous position. As with the rest of the publishing industry, the digital wave of tablets and e-readers has made the business end of the industry confusing. And as Salkowitz points out, the major comics companies-perhaps feeling cushioned by their movie moneys – have been calamitously cautious about embracing the digital.

To be sure, there are doubtless members of the alt comics community with little allegiance to the mainstream that wouldnt be bothered by a future without the big guys. But those of us who value greater diversity in our comics-or still hold a nostalgic attachment to the Marvel and DC comics of our youth-will doubtless find it troubling. To be sure, a good number of the current Comic-Con attendees would.

But Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture is not just devoted to potential doom-y scenarios. It also takes in the cons celebratory nature: the costumes, the near encyclopedic appreciation of favorite titles and creators, plus other manifestations of nerd culture. My aim in this book is to balanced color and insight, personal passion and analytical observation, Salkowitz notes at the outset, and to a large extent he succeeds. He describes the most visual aspects of the event without indulging in any cheapshot caricaturizing. Through the course of the book, we get to meet several major creative players in the field (superstar comics writer Grant Morrison, witty indy creator Batton Lash, former underground comix publisher Denis Kitchen, the Inevitable Stan Lee) along with thoughtful comics bloggers like Heidi MacDonald. The book takes in as much of the scope of Comic-Con as it can, so its fannish beginnings as a celebration of nearly forgotten Golden Age artists is recognized alongside panel presentations on web comics.

And, of course, we cant forget the other major manifestation of Comic-Con: its role as a publicity springboard for upcoming comic-tied movie and game releases. Salkowitz has some fun at the expense of Hollywood beautiful people all coming out to woo the fans, rhapsodizing about their perhaps invented early geek love of comics, though hes clear-sighted in considering both the pros and cons of this cross-media relationship. More than anything, the Hollywood connection has been a factor in Comic-Cons growth, though there are doubtless some old guard con-goers who look fondly back to the good old days.

For them, the writer offers one of four possible futures for Comic-Con 2017: one in which the digital thing went bust and Hollywood moved on, yet comics survived and returned to the people who love it. Thats a pretty picture for many of us geezerly geeks, but whether we make it to Earth-One, -Two, -Three or -Four is dependent on market and economic variables that even the most thorough futurist cant fully predict. For those who want to ponder the foreseeable possibilities, though Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture makes for some entertainingly thoughtful reading.

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Business operators say port’s fee a ‘war’

August 3, 2012


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PORT CANAVERAL — Hotel owner Bob Baugher has been upset with Port Canaveral officials for some time because of what he sees as anti-business moves targeted at local tourism businesses. But Baugher couldn?t believe what he was hearing when a consultant recommended the Canaveral Port Authority board revoke all permits for hotels and parking lot owners that operate park-and-ride services for cruise passengers.

?What you?re doing is declaring war on tourism in this area,? Baugher told the commissioners, by giving the port what amounted to a monopoly for its $15-a-day parking garages and lots. Its off-site competitors charge as little as $5.49 a day.

Consultant Michele Krakowski of Lumin Advisors told commissioners they are losing business to cheaper off-site parking lots.

Parking fees account for about half the port?s operating income, she said, and the falling revenue puts the port in danger of defaulting on its bond obligations if the commission doesn?t take drastic action. The port also is in the process of building an $8 million-plus, 750-space parking garage, even though fewer cruise passengers are parking at the port.

?This is very serious ? very,? Krakowski said. ?This is our financial leg that is being shaken, and it is being shaken pretty violently right now. And it?s going to be ripped out from you if you allow it. Every time I come out here, it?s worse and worse, and there?s no safety net for you. You will lose it. And I can say that confidently.?

What she didn?t say was that the port earned a $15.4 million profit in the first eight months of its current budget year, up 40 percent from the $11 million in profit a year earlier.

In the end, the commission didn?t ban park-and-ride businesses from Port Canaveral, but it voted 3-2 to raise to $50 per trip the fee for hotel owners and private lot operators to drop off or pick up cruise passengers. Current fees are $2.50 to $15, depending on how many passengers the vehicle can ferry.

The port?s board also voted to stop issuing new permits for companies wanting to get into the park-and-ride business; moved passenger pickup points farther away from some cruise terminals; and authorized management to set new standards for ground transportation businesses and new penalties for non-compliance.

Money reports reflect big gap

August 1, 2012


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Republican John Druzbick is not only the money leader to date of anyone running for county commission but has raised about five times the amount of his Republican challenger Jason Sager.

Druzbick, the incumbent commissioner from District 3, has amassed $19,833, according to the most recent campaign finance report ending April 10.

Sager, who admits he got a late start asking for money, has $4,020.

The report only covers contributions through April 10. Monetary donations after that will appear on the next finance report due out July 13.

Sager said he didnt start seeking monetary contributions in earnest until late last month because he spent his time concentrating on meeting the deadline for qualification via petitions.

Until that happened, it made no sense asking people for money, Sager said.

Others in the District 3 race include Tanya Marsh, running as a no-party candidate, who has garnered $30 in monetary contributions. NPA candidates Timothy Alexander and Greg Sheldon had no money in their campaign war chests.

Democrat Arlene Glantz has criticized some incumbent commissioners for accepting donations from companies who do business with the board.

Glantz said the perception is bad and represents a conflict of interest.

Druzbick acknowledges that he has contributions from some engineering firms that routinely come before the board. However, Druzbick said his record of objectivity speaks for itself and that all of these businesses have the best interests of Hernando County at heart. Many supported him in the last election and even during his terms as school board member, he added.

Druzbick said its almost common practice for some to criticize those who amass the most money, and this is no different.

Im sure if they were offered the money or went after it, they would be accepting it as donations, he said.

Druzbick said he has only one special interest: the 172,000 or so people of Hernando County.

Meanwhile the District 1 county commission race took an unexpected turn last week when incumbent Republican Jeff Stabins announced his withdrawal.

Of the six people vying for that seat, Republican Michael Burmann has $1,430 to date, followed by Independent Joseph Swilley with $550.

Republicans Nick Nicholson, Richard Matassa and Regina Werder-McGuire reported no monetary contributions through April 10.

Glantz, the sole Democrat in the District 1 race, reported $330.

Stabins had received $4,600 in monetary contributions. State law requires him to return the money in various ways, including returning it proportionately to each contributor or donating it to charity.

Meanwhile, in District 5, Republican incumbent Jim Adkins has $2,735 and is the only person in that race with any monetary contributions through the reporting period.

NPA candidate Paul Douglas, Republican Michael Barsanti and Democrat Ramon Gutierrez had no contributions.

* * * * *

Democrat Julio Jenks Sr. has withdrawn his name from contention for county commission District 3.

Jenks was the only Democrat in the race for that seat.

The deadline for qualifying for the 2012 election ended last week. Those county commission candidates who failed to amass the required number of petitions have until noon June 8 to pay a $3,751.38 qualifying fee.

Those candidates are Swilley, Nicholson, Alexander, Marsh, Barsanti and Douglas.